A new and exciting workforce development program in Chicago is turning out to be a win-win both for the Windy City and its film industry. The program, which spans disciplines, is titled Chicago Made, and Local 600 is playing a vital role in identifying and mentoring two new digital utilities who will eventually become Local 600 members.
Following in the footsteps of job training nonprofits like Hollywood CPR in Los Angeles and Brooklyn Workforce Innovations in New York, Chicago Made aims to take advantage of the recent boom in filming there that has resulted in tens of thousands of production jobs over the past two years alone.
The project is a joint effort between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and the Chicago Film Office at the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. More than 20 organizations – ranging from studios to advocacy groups to organized labor – will be providing expertise or training. Taking its cue from the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, Chicago Made is targeting undeserved communities. For the first cohort, the program received more than 500 applications.
“Nobody has ever done anything like this before, so we are seeing if we can adapt to the needs of the workforce,” said Chicago Film Office Director Kwame Amoaku, who added that the partnership with entertainment labor unions has proved hugely beneficial. “The relationship we have with organized labor in Chicago is very good.”
In the first cohort of Chicago Made, approximately 25 individuals will receive job-skills training and placement across the movie and TV disciplines, including carpenters, costumers, grips, lighting technicians, production assistants and set decorators. The two camera department participants will receive their training at two area camera rental houses under the guidance of Local 600 trainers.
Local 600’s elected leaders, members and staff have participated in the planning of Chicago Made practically since the program’s inception. Assistant Western Region Director Xiomara Comrie and Central Region Director Theresa Khouri have been involved from the onset with Amoaku, and the union formed an advisory committee to help shape Local 600’s role. The principles of Local 600’s Path to Employment Program – which focuses on training and work opportunities that result in careers not just internships – is embedded in this initiative.
Among the advisory members is Peter Kuttner, a retired camera technician and former member of the Local 600 National Executive Board (NEB) who has an extensive history in community organizing. When he was sworn into IATSE Local 666 in 1975, the Chicago-based Kuttner said that the makeup of the union membership did not reflect the diversity of the community. In addition to his professional projects, Kuttner has worked throughout his career with community groups that focused on helping underserved communities.
“As more and more of these groups have developed, I’ve stayed in touch with them, done some mentoring and training and always looked for the day that we could bring more people from underserved communities into the local,” said Kuttner who served on Local 600’s first diversity committee.
“We are not looking for window dressing,” he added. “Chicago Made is a program that Local 600 wants to participate in. These trainees will get jobs. They will end up in the union.”
In 2019 alone, Chicago’s film and TV production industry employed more than 20,000 people, resulting in more than $560 million in job creation and local expenditures. In 2021, a record-setting number of productions pumped more than $700 million into the local economy.
“Fingers crossed, we continue to grow at the rate that we’re growing, and we can continue to increase our workforce as we are growing our infrastructure,” Amoaku said.